A group of nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian has come forward with a very different picture of what happened when Liberian Ebola patient Thomas Duncan arrived at the hospital with Ebola-like symptoms on September 28th. If true, the allegations are certainly unsettling.
In an unusual move, the nurses spoke anonymously to the media, conducting a blind conference call in which none of the participants were identified.
After arriving at the emergency room with a high fever and other symptoms of the disease , the nurses said the patient was kept in a public area, despite the fact that he and a relative informed staff that he had been instructed to go to the hospital after contacting the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to report a possible case of Ebola.
The nurses said the patient was “left for several hours, not in isolation, in an area” where up to seven other patients were. “Subsequently, a nurse supervisor arrived and demanded that he be moved to an isolation unit, yet faced stiff resistance from other hospital authorities,” they alleged.
Duncan’s lab samples were sent through the usual hospital tube system “without being specifically sealed and hand delivered. The result is that the entire tube system … was potentially contaminated,” they said.
The statement described a hospital with no clear rules on how to handle Ebola patients, despite months of alerts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta about the possibility of Ebola coming to the United States.
“There was no advanced preparedness on what to do with the patient. There was no protocol. There was no system. The nurses were asked to call the infectious disease department” if they had questions, but that department didn’t have answers either, the statement said. So nurses were essentially left to figure things out on their own as they dealt with “copious amounts” of highly contagious bodily fluids from the dying Duncan while wearing gloves with no wrist tapes, flimsy gowns that did not cover their necks, and no surgical booties, it alleged.
The charges come on the same day as news that a second healthcare worker has tested positive for Ebola. Frieden said public health officials should prepare for the worst, saying that it is likely that more cases will emerge.
The CDC Director issued a series of statements yesterday admitting that the agency was slow in responding to the crisis. Frieden backtracked on statements that many nurses interpreted as throwing the nurses involved under the bus. The agency is reassessing its guidance on the disease.
Nurses and their supporters took to Twitter to defend the nurses involved.
Note: You can read the CDC’s original guidance to health care workers in Frieden’s THCB blog post here.
Update : Revised guidelines call for extra precautions to be taken to cover exposed skin, second layer of gloves.
If you are a nurse involved in the care of a patient at Texas Health Presbyterian, we’d like to hear your side of the story. E-mail us. We’re also interested in hearing from other nurses around the country. Has your hospital established procedures and guidelines for dealing with potential Ebola cases?
Pick up the story from the Dallas Morning News here